Sunday, March 31, 2024

Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

The Resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Without it, the whole building collapses. If Jesus is not raised, we are wasting our time. If Jesus died, and that was it, then “your faith is in vain and you are still lost in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17)

Do we just have to take the Resurrection of Jesus on faith, or is there good scientific and historical evidence for it?


 a)     The New Testament

The New Testament is built around the Resurrection – every book and letter shouts of faith in the risen Jesus. It was all written by people who were convinced the Resurrection had happened: either they were eye-witnesses themselves, or they had met other eye-witnesses and become convinced.

            The Gospels are the key. These are the books which recount Jesus life, death and resurrection in detail. The Gospels all agree that Jesus died and rose from the dead – that’s why the 4 writers felt compelled to write about Jesus.

The fact that there are 4 Gospels, and not 1, is important. 4 identical accounts would look like a fix, 1 account only would be shaky. But 4 accounts which all differ in various details looks genuine. If there was some conspiracy between the gospel writers, they would have made sure their accounts agreed.

            The New Testament itself was all written between 50 and 90AD, within 60 years of the life of Jesus. Earliest fragments of the NT have been found that date to 120AD. With other literature of the time (e.g. Roman), the earliest finds date to centuries later. The archaeological evidence is sound.

If the resurrection was a myth, a legend invented by Jesus followers, then it would need a much longer gap from the life of Jesus to the creation of the written accounts. What’s more, the 1st century was a culture well practiced in memorisation, and passing on accurate details.

We can therefore take the stories of the resurrection as genuine history, rather than a legend.

b)     Other literature:

Several non-Christian texts from the 1st century mention Jesus, his life and death, and some mention the resurrection stories. So the basic facts of Jesus life, teaching, death and resurrection are confirmed by sources outside the Bible.

What Happened?

Here is what we know:

V  Jesus was arrested

V  He was tried and sentenced to death,

V  He was executed by crucifixion.

V  He was buried in a tomb

V  When his followers went to pay their respects 2 days later Jesus body was missing from the tomb.

V  Many of Jesus followers then claimed to have seen Jesus alive, including some people (like St. Paul) who had been openly hostile to Jesus.

V  The early church was founded, by the disciples, on the belief that Jesus was risen from the dead, and that he was therefore God’s chosen one.

Science is based on this principle: the theory that best fits the facts is the one most likely to be true. So what best explains these facts? Is it that Jesus was raised from the dead, or something else?

Here are the other explanations that people have offered

a)     Jesus didn’t die: he fainted on the cross, then revived in the tomb and escaped.


Ø  the Romans were experts at crucifixion, and by the time he got to the Cross Jesus had already been beaten and flogged, and lost a lot of blood.

Ø  The spear in Jesus side (John 19:34) released ‘blood and water’ – i.e. the dead Jesus’ blood had already started to clot and separate. John, the gospel writer, wouldn’t have known this, but medical science has since discovered it. Jesus was dead.

Ø  By some fluke, even had Jesus survived the cross, he would be in no state to escape his embalming bandages, roll aside a massive stone, overpower a group of soldiers and appear to the disciples in a way that convinced them of his resurrection. A month in intensive care would have been more appropriate

b)     Someone stole the body, which explains why it wasn’t at the tomb. But: who?

  • The disciples went to prison and death for the sake of the Gospel. If they had stolen the body, then they would have known all along that the resurrection was a fake. You don’t die for a lie. They didn’t steal it.

·        The Jews or Romans would have produced the body as soon as stories of the Resurrection began to circulate, to quash the stories. But they didn’t. So, they didn’t steal it either.

c)     The disciples were all hallucinating: they thought they’d seen the risen Jesus, but they hadn’t.


V  Firstly, they were in no condition to hallucinate. Though Jesus had taught them about his resurrection, none of them believed him, and they all ran away. They were finished. Hallucinations tend to be wish-fulfilment, but psychologically this seems very unlikely with the disciples

V  Secondly – too many hallucinations. They were in all sorts of places, and all sorts of times, to all sorts of people. The Bible reports 550 different eye-witnesses. This is just too many people to have the same delusion.

V  Again, if they had been hallucinating, Jesus would still have been dead. But where was his body? It would have been a simple matter to produce it, but nobody did.

 None of these rival explanations does full justice to the facts. The only explanation that fits is that Jesus really rose from the dead.

3  Burning  Questions

1. What actually happened to the disciples?

A ragtag bunch of fishermen, revolutionaries and civil servants, whose leader had died as a criminal, suddenly began preaching that Jesus was alive. Within a matter of weeks they had thousands of followers. They change from a defeated and scattered group to a powerhouse of prayer, preaching and community life.

One writer has said that for such a change to happen, it would have needed an event with the power of a nuclear explosion.

It must have taken something amazing to do this. The best explanation is the one the Bible gives – that they met Jesus, risen from the dead.

What’s more, since then millions of Christians have met Jesus personally, and had their lives transformed by him. The risen Christ is still at work today, in our lives and in the lives of countless others across the world.

2. Who was raised from the dead?

The man God raised from the dead wasn’t just anyone:

Ø  Jesus spoke of himself as ‘one’ with God,

Ø  He claimed the right to reinterpret God’s ancient laws

Ø  He forgave people their sins – something only God can do.

Ø  He spoke of himself as ‘the way’, and ‘the light of the world’.

In other words, Jesus claimed to be unique, he claimed to be God, and he called people to follow him. When God raised Jesus from the dead, it was God’s seal of approval on everything Jesus said and did. The resurrection is God’s endorsement of Jesus words and claims, and God’s demonstration of his power over death and sin.

 3. So what?

The resurrection of Jesus means that:

V   Jesus is who he said he was; God in human flesh, the Lord and Saviour of the world. The only right response to this is to obey and follow him.

V   Jesus is God’s unique messenger. No other founder of a world religion has been raised from the dead. Through the Resurrection, God points to Jesus as the true Way to himself.

V   God has acted decisively in history through Jesus, and at the end of history we will all be judged on our response to Jesus. 

A prayer: Lord Jesus, I believe that you died in my place on the cross, and that you were raised from the dead, and that you are alive today. I want to follow and obey you as my Lord and Saviour. Forgive me my sins, fill me with your Holy Spirit, and fill my life with the power of your resurrection. Amen

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